FROM THE GET go, you’re in a newspaper environment in a city where young women are currency and business fronts to terrible wheeling and dealing proliferate. This is Betrayal, an English-language radio play by Elma Potgieter, which attempts to bring in all the dirty threads that comprise the underhand stories central to our contemporary world, where little should be taken at surface value and psychopaths are hard to recognise. That is, until they are challenged.
It’s a good enough story, evoking from the first few moments, novels such as Peter Harris’s Bare Ground, or Marilyn Cohen De Villiers’s Deceive and Defend, which offer fictional insights into horrifying truths and how stories are cast into motion. But sadly, that is where the resemblance ends: Betrayal engages with the texture and urgency of a newspaper environment and a crime scene, but it is profoundly predictable in its structure and writing and often peppered with literary idioms and platitudes which compromise the realness of the characters.
Patrice Mathibela (Patrick Bokaba) is the kingpin in something that looks too good to be true. A wealthy businessman, he is set on turning the city’s problems upside down with a new establishment mooted ‘Nugget City’. He’s in a relationship with Alexa (Mpumelelo Manganya) who is also the Women’s Editor for The Voice, the newspaper which is the heart of the story. She’s the best friend of Lerato (Sibulele Gcilitshana), the paper’s news editor, who isn’t quite sure that all is kosher with her friend’s relationship.
The story gathers momentum under the watch of crime reporter, Sipho (Archie Nhlapo), and a secret letter from a young woman seals the deal. The rest happens as it must, leaving you curious as to what a news editor actually does, wondering what said letter said, and perplexed as to the absence of twists in this tale. As a result, even the title is painted in a shade too bland and unpromising, making you feel a tad betrayed.
In a sense, this work suffers from too much ambition and not enough development: in the brevity of an hour, not enough is left untold, you’re in the know from the first few moments and the denouement feels pushed in, hurriedly. Having said that, the characters are generally nicely developed and competently performed, but sometimes too many platitudes in their words make for woodenness in their presences.
Betrayal is written by Elma Potgieter. Directed by Posy Keogh, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is performed by Patrick Bokaba, Emmanuel Castis, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Victor Malepe, Mpumelelo Manganya, Archie Nhlapo, Russel Savadier, and Bronwyn van Graan, and will be broadcast on SAFM – 104-107fm – on June 17 at 8pm.
THE AIRPORT: A place of meeting and greeting, of tearful goodbyes and certain levels of anxiety – particularly given the history our world has faced with the complexity of flight. Playwright Frances Slabolepszy does a delicious kind of a mash up in this English medium radio play, in which she takes two event managers fairly new to the job, the whole machine of the airport, a bunch of international delegates and a film crew who are using the airport as a backdrop to their psycho drama with spiders. Not to forget a woman with jujitsu skills coupled with an anxiety disorder. In less able hands, this would have been a silly fruit salad. But it isn’t.
Slabolepszy’s work is structured with the funnies all carefully in place to their best advantage. As the play begins to unfold, so do you get swept up into the drama, unsure as to how it will unfold. Tossed into the mix is the issue of African names that do not stoop to gender specificity, and foreigners who have a slight command of English idioms. The result is complete hilarity, of the ilk you might have seen on TV in the 1970s and 1980s with the weekend series, Mind Your Language, written by Vince Powell. Xenophobic? Not a sausage: this work is about gorgeous misunderstandings and cultural miens.
It’s a work that you are forced not to take too seriously in thinking about all the kinds of things that can go wrong in the confines of an airport, but it is put together with wisdom, beautifully cast and performed with a sense of theatrical fun and perfection. The cast brings together well established performers such as Louise St Claire and Esmeralda Bihl, together with younger, but no less seasoned thespians. You will laugh because it is funny and you will laugh because there’s an element of terror here that messes with your sense of safety.
Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s the best possible reason to stay at home this Sunday evening, with a warm cuppa and a comfortable chair.
The Jet Set is written by Frances Slabolepszy. Directed by Posy Keogh and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is produced by Julia-Ann Malone and Niquita Joseph and is performed by Esmeralda Bihl, Patrick Bokaba, Ryan Flynn, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Robyn Heaney, Victor Malepe, Lerato Mvelase, Jeremy Richard and Louise St Claire. It is broadcast on SAFM (104-107FM) on Sunday, June 10 at 8pm.
PROFOUND GRIEF IS a curious cipher of very real emotions which reach much deeper than maybe you’d like. It’s a tongue loosener, a memory jolter, a redefiner. In Easter Island, a beautifully crafted English-language radio play by Anton Krueger, you get to meet a father and a son who are mourning the loss of Celestine, his wife, his mother. They’re in the sauna with some weed, a little beer, each other and their memories.
But more than a maudlin tale of sadness it’s a revealing yarn about the generational gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials and the disparate values articulated by each. It’s about the unexplained mysteries of Easter Island in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean, as it is about free love, sloppy responsibilities and secrets on the other end of the phone.
Like Retief Scholtz’s potent Afrikaans stage- and radio play Dop, which offers unexpected depths to the characters and revelations which make you understand them differently, Easter Island strips both characters of emotional defences, but leaves neither without their own edges and attitudes. Evoking the flawed professor in Lewis Gilbert’s 1983 film Educating Rita, it’s about archaeology and son-father bonding with a twist in its conclusion that you might not see coming, but one that will warm and spice your understanding of who you may be in the world, and how your parent can read you.
Primarily, the work, played with a developed sense of history and authenticity by David Butler as the father, Lothlorien opposite Julian Kruger as his adult son, Zebulon, who prefers to call himself Neil, is an essay on the ferocity of loss and the fleeting quality of life itself. Truths and mishaps, the bruises and breakages that makes the father who he is, and the son who he is, are articulated with harsh gentleness, leaving the most potent denouement to the very last.
It’s a deeply touching work, but one not without levity and a strong sense of how things are.
Easter Island is written by Anton Krueger. Directed by Posy Keogh, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Patrick Monana, it is produced by Julia-Ann Malone assisted by Niquita Joseph and performed by David Butler, Julian Kruger and Theo Landey and will be broadcast in English on Sunday, June 3 at 8pm on SAFM, 104-107FM.
“WOLWEDANS IN DIE skemer (the popular afternoon serial by Leon van Nierop) was my programme, as a child,” says Kobus Burger, executive director for drama on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), South Africa’s Afrikaans-language Public Broadcasting Service, which is under the aegis of the SABC. “If I missed an episode, it was a very serious matter.” Radio is alive and well in this society, or is it? Burger chatted to My View about the station’s upcoming season of radio dramas, which starts on March 30 as well as the challenges of the medium.
Drama has always been close to Burger’s heart; he’s enjoyed stints as an art critic and a teacher of writing skills in his career trajectory. Indeed, he initiated the RSG Kunstefees, an arts festival all on radio, in November of 2014. It was a fascinating initiative which brought theatre fare into your life through the wireless. No jackets required. Sadly, the festival was put on a back burner, last year.
“It was budget that put this project on hold,” he says. “It was a lovely project but not part of our mandate. It was part of our innovation strategy, but not a must have. Last year we followed it up with a smaller boutique festival, called RSG Skatkis. And hopefully, if there is funding, RSG Kunstefees will be back.”
Curiously, RSG’s listenership comprises people who might not be fluent Afrikaans speakers. Burger explains that they listen because it is good quality programming and there’s something for everyone. Built on a model which evokes Springbok Radio (1950-1985), it’s a medium which warms the cockles of people’s hearts and hits on the nostalgia button, every time.
“Audio is so amazing, particularly in South Africa,” he adds. “Video is much more expensive and inconvenient because of the priceyness of data. The research says radio is still the most accessible, because people don’t always have access to TV.
“It’s immensely creative and completely non-visual. And with these kinds of limitations, you can do amazing things. You can go anywhere, do anything. It’s never a budget issue, because with audio you can literally travel to the moon, and back.”
From March 30 (Good Friday), a season of 14 Afrikaans plays will grace your radio. A play is broadcast each Thursday evening at 8pm – after Easter Friday, that is. The season begins with an Easter play by Helena Hugo – which is part of the station’s mandate. Then, with the exception of a translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Suzanne van Wijk, the season is rich with brand new names and fabulous yarns written by winners of the radio drama writing competition which has been sponsored by Sanlam for the past 22 years.
The competition generates between 120 and 130 new plays each year. With a purse of R100 000 for all the winners collectively, it’s not a bad incentive. If you win first prize, you’re looking at R37 000. And that’s for a piece of sustained writing of between 40 and 50 pages.
Growing playwrights is not uncomplicated, but it can be very rewarding, he continues. “You have to nurture your writers. New and original drama scripts can be a challenge with some Afrikaans theatre festivals. That’s probably why we see so many translations and adaptations of novels. And sometimes playwrights get precious about their work and won’t take criticism. Some insist that their first draft is the final draft. With our writers, we’re very strict in terms of enabling the best possible work to develop out of an idea. And luckily most of the radio writers like the suggestions and are excited about taking another look at their script.”
Over the next 14 weeks, My View undertakes to bring you reviews of and links to the plays comprising this year’s season of RSG winners, as we did toward the end of last years, with such remarkable works as an Afrikaans translation of Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, and Dalene Matthee’s exquisite Judasbok, as well as Marion Erskine’s chilling Akwarius, among others. We’re in for another delightful rollercoaster of diversity.
The playwrights responsible for these works include: Sophia van Taak, a magazine journalist and TV presenter who brings Springgety to air; Lee Doubell, with his work Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, rubbish) has written before for SAfm; Albert Short, the playwright responsible for ‘n Voorlopige begrafnis (A provisional funeral), is in the finance world, then there’s a new science fiction work by seasoned writer, Schalk Schoombie.
“Hittegolf (Heat wave) by Martyn le Roux is about the ozone layers breaking up – it’s a small family drama which takes on a surrealist madness. Martyn’s very interesting and he’s won a lot of acknowledgement so far in English and Afrikaans. At the moment he is developing one of his RSG radio drama scripts into a full-length feature film. It’s called Die Pelsloper and its scheduled to be screened in 2019. Martyn’s grown remarkably and he’s eager to develop with criticism. He might very well be the new generation’s PG Du Plessis.”
So what else is on the radio theatre horizon? There’s a murder mystery with nudist elements, a translation of an old folk tale which sees a father making the ultimate sacrifice when his son is trapped in a borehole. There’s a tale about the damage that gossip can bring and another is an ode to poetry and literature through the eyes of the elderly. The season is wide, the pickings are there for the listening.